We live in a culture of perfection, bombarded by images of how life should be if only our lives (if we) were different. Most of us are too sensible for that but relentless, constant exposure to perfect images works on us in infinitely subtle and devious ways. We might tint our hair and go to the gym and act years younger than our age, but the fact is we are still middle-aged.If only we could (should) have a better handbag, trimmer thighs, a bigger car, a better job. Research shows that one of the fastest tracks to unhappiness lies in comparing ourselves to others. If you were told you were being given a raise of £10,000, you'd be happy, right? We even swallowed that old line that '50 is the new 40', hoping, or perhaps praying, it was true.I know now that suicidal thoughts are a major symptom of depression - as a fever is to pneumonia - but at the time it was horribly, terribly real. If I had understood that managing my illness means being honest about it, asking for help and putting in place a controlled programme of nutrition, exercise and therapy, I might have had a happier life rather than one too often punctuated by long, dreary months of depression - about which, like so many others, I told nobody because I thought I should be 'coping' better.I lost a stone in weight in a couple of months, mainly because food sat like dust and ashes in my mouth. As Dr Andrew Mc Culloch says: 'Mental health problems remain extremely common, yet only a quarter of people with a mental health problem are receiving treatment.' If we stop seeing mental health as some frightening and marginal category, but look at it simply as part of public health and general wellbeing, we might put the stigma where it belongs - in the dustbin. I worry, too, that by focusing too much on women, we ignore the many problems men are facing. It can be destructive in its expression, leaving in its wake a wreckage of alcohol and drug abuse, broken homes and fragmented communities.How about if the person sitting next to you had a raise of £20,000? It's just that the person sitting next to you has more. My generation, the generation who came of age in the Sixties, is the generation of Youth. The trouble is, you can't argue with biology, and biology steadfastly maintains that we cross the threshold into menopause.And, lo, with menopause comes all sorts of unforeseen happenings such as sleeplessness and anxiety, irritability and sadness - not to mention a softening around the waist and the incontestable evidence of lost youth.So, yes, we're surprised - and perhaps a little scared - to find ourselves at this point in life.Of course we are, because we thought it was never going to happen to Further, our menopausal symptoms are hugely exacerbated by stress because stress, particularly in our 30s and 40s, sends our hormones, literally, crazy.
It is not just middle-aged women who are at risk from depression.
It does not, however, put your life on hold, as depression does. By that, I mean vicious episodes of full-on debilitating, bone aching, soul-sapping hell. I did get well, though, just as I have seen many, many others get well too (I made a number of good friends on those psychiatric wards). The next day, for absolutely no reason, I wake up to find the Black Dog sitting on my head. Yes, 25 five per cent of we middle-aged women may be subject to anxiety and depression, but we should try not to scare ourselves about that.
Then there's the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder. Sure, it can get a bit out of hand and make us feel nervy and irritable, but when it gets seriously out of hand as in anxiety disorder, you're vomiting into the nearest wastepaper bin or shaking so hard you can hardly stand. My mother also suffers from depression and so does my daughter. I was 45 years old at the time, and it crept up on me quietly, slipping its cold hands around my neck until I was crying in five-hour bursts (I am not, by nature, much given to tears), waking at exactly 3.20 every morning and unable to go back to sleep. And while I still suffer from occasional episodes, I've come to see it as an illness that, like any other illness, needs to be managed on a daily basis. Treatable: The stigma of mental health problems stops many women asking for help but today anxiety and depression are both highly treatable The point is that depression and anxiety are highly treatable - or would be if we were taught to pay the same kind of attention to our emotional health as we are taught to pay to our physical health.
And in the weekly column I write about emotional issues, at least half the letters come from men.
Yet most of them have never told anyone they suffer from depression - not their wives and certainly not their boss.